Busy Being Not Busy

For the first time in my life that I can recall, I am finding myself in an odd position.  I have absolutely no idea what comes next on my journey, nor any plans for how to get to what I feel should be the next phase of my life.

I am a recovering busy-aholic.

For most of my adult life I have found my worth and my identity in all the activities I took part in.  This is in all the aspects of my life – personal, professional and spiritual.  Any changes in any of these areas, regardless of how small they were, caused major upsets in my world.

This way of perceiving myself and the world around me and qualifying myself by constantly doing was exhausting. It also didn’t ever leave me feeling very satisfied with myself or my circumstances or my life in general.

At the end of the day I still just wanted more.  More time, more financial means, more friendships.  Just more of all of the good things in life I guess.  Determined to achieve more and be more so that I could have more rewards from both the world of men and from God.

The funny thing about this perspective is that I tried so hard to take care of everything and everyone around me that I forgot to take care of me or my personal relationship with God!   No wonder I couldn’t find any peace, joy, or satisfaction.

Fortunately, in spite of myself, by the grace of God, I was able to realize just how dysfunctional my sense of self-worth was.  My worth can’t be found among earthly people or pursuits or even within myself.

 My worth comes from Yahweh — God who is always with me.

Having been taught this lesson by our very patient God where does that leave me?

I am now in a holding pattern.   I do not know what is coming next for me or where my next calling lies.  For the first time ever I have no idea what comes next.  There are no plans for how to get to the next place.  I am just being still and trying to be content in my Sabbath rest:

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter Gods’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. – Hebrews 4:9-11 (NRSV)

Rest – sounds so easy!  However, it has been a struggle for me.  For someone so used to being busy, stepping back from committees and other commitments without having new ones lined up has been incredibly hard. Still this is what the Father has for me at this time in my life.  Stepping back, letting go of settling for just good, while waiting to see what God has in store for me.  Taking time to just be and breathe.

As I have laid aside my studies, readings, and writing to just take time to rest my mind and commune with the Maker of my soul there have been little voices attempting to break my peace and joy.  Even on sabbatical rest the Enemy’s little darts still try to zing me.

Thoughts flood my mind of things I SHOULD be doing as I sit relaxing on the back deck watching the birds in the yard.   Thoughts of how lazy I am because I am not touching the pile of books that are on my end table patiently waiting to be read.  Thoughts of being a failure as a writer because I can’t seem to find inspiration for blog posts at the moment.

I have discovered that being not busy is EXACTLY what I am supposed to be doing right now.  If I were not being obedient in this then there would be no attacks, but the enemy has been working over time to wreck my peace.  It has been a constant temptation for me to jump into something, anything, just to make myself busy.

And it is during these times of temptation that I feel stressed and frantic.  When I tell those voices in my head to quiet down and allow me to rest, my peace returns.  I chose to ask God in humility and obedience to help me find the strength to continue to be resting in him rather than finding busyness that distracts me from him.

And little by little, small tasks are being sent my way again.  He is now leading me to continue to rest, but to also spend this time learning in preparation of things to come.  There are books that are now being read and studied, blog posts that are starting to come together one piece at a time, and opportunities to spread my wings and step out of my comfort zone to try preaching the Sunday morning message again in the near future.

Beyond these small things, He still hasn’t revealed what comes next on the journey for me.  I am content to learn the small lessons as he teaches them to me.

Sabbath rest is vital to a healthy personal relationship with God.  Make the time to engage in just being in his presence.  Rest in his arms as he prepares you to take up his yoke once more.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for  am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:28-30 (NSRV)

 

 

 

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Getting Comfortable

God is always moving and the Holy Spirit is always moving in us.  As we thrive and become comfortable He begins to start to nudge us here and there to stray out of that comfort zone for His glory.

These past few weeks have been quiet weeks for me.  I have been resting my mind and renewing my soul taking sabbath time with the Father.  Time that is much-needed after the flurry of activity surrounding two major milestones on my journey to answer God’s calling on my life.   Both of these milestones required me to come out of the comfort zone I had built around myself.

The first of these was completing and graduating from year one of the C.S. Lewis Fellows Program.  This year-long intensive program is designed to make disciples who can then go out and disciple others.  In order for this to happen I had to be willing to let go and let God move into all the areas of my life, not just one or two.  His claim is on all of me.

Many times over this past year I have had to go to some very uncomfortable places in my heart and mind as I emptied out the hurts that have built up in my heart over the course of my lifetime.  Digging deep into feelings that I didn’t even know I had in some cases.  This process still isn’t finished, and I am not sure that this ever will completely end, but along the way God has filled in the holes in my heart.   He is strengthening me daily and letting me know that I am enough already as I am.

This process of healing that he has begun in me is necessary in order for me to move forward and be able to fully embrace the call he has for me in this life.

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The second milestone I reached during the month of June I must confess is one that I never thought would be something that would be a part of my calling.  On June 12 for the first time ever I brought the Sunday morning message to the congregation at Midway.

Never in a million years did I see myself in the position of being qualified to give a sermon or that the opportunity would ever even be given to me.  However, our God works in mysterious ways as we all know.  So I guess at the end of the day is there ever anything that is too great for us to do if we are filled with Spirit of God who gives us the guidance and wisdom we need?

Many times I have stood before our congregation, but only ever as a worship leader.  The thought of standing behind the pulpit was a very intimidating one!  I knew right away that God was calling me to share my testimony so that was what I concentrated on as I began to write the message.

Some parts came together easily.  I knew right away that the name of this message had to be “Believing and Belonging”.  The scriptures that would be used came relatively easy as well:  Luke 10:38-42 and John 15:1-8.  The story of Martha and Mary is told in this passage from Luke and is the perfect illustration of the journey I have been on – first as Martha, then as Mary.

However the actual words of the sermon eluded me.  For the better part of a week I tried in vain to find a place to begin.  Thursday night before the given Sunday I sat in front of my computer willing the words to come, but nothing felt right.

Giving up for the night I went to bed with renewed prayers that God would pour the message he wanted me to share into my heart.  As I laid in bed waiting for sleep to come I suddenly knew where the message needed to start!  The next morning I began typing and the words quickly filled up pages.  The message was ready!!

But was I?

On many occasions I have made it clear that I did not feel I would ever be able to fill a pulpit and preach a Sunday message.  The suggestion that perhaps I should preach was one that I regularly rejected feeling that wasn’t a place for me.  Turns out God had other ideas on the matter!

I don’t know what will come next for me, but that Sunday morning God held my hand and steadied my voice and used me to bring a message to his people at Midway.

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I guess we just never know where the road might take us if we are willing to leave our places of comfort!

So perhaps it isn’t that we are ever truly comfortable in our lives, but that we are learning to be comfortable serving him in humility, relying on His strength and wisdom to guide us through all the tasks that he brings our way.  We are learning to be comfortable in him rather than in ourselves.

As I continue to branch out in his calling for me, I will move forward with confidence drawing strength and wisdom from the vine.  Serving where ever and however He may call me.  Abiding in his love bringing glory to his name.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.   You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.   Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.   I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:1-8, NRSV) 

*To hear my recorded message, visit the Midway Mennonite Church’s website.  Worship in song followed by the scripture readings begins the recording and the message starts at about 23:30.

 

 

Setting Your Mind

 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth – Colossians 3:2 (NRSV)

“Set you mind minds on things above” sounds like something that should be so easy to do and fairly simple to incorporate into our daily lives.  Yet it is something that I struggle with daily.  Why is that?

Life kicks in and the daily grind starts to overwhelm me and my focus becomes fixed on my problems or aspirations in this world.

All of my intentions of setting my thoughts on things above, heavenly things, God’s plans for me, or being in relationship with God, become lofty ambitions.  The things that I will get around to AFTER I have dealt with the business of living.  Why is that?

Our culture is one that puts tremendous importance on things like survival of the fittest, self sufficiency, self-reliance and self-help.  Societal norms have left us with expectations that we need to be constantly improving ourselves both materially and personally, physically and mentally.  Just grab a magazine and look at the photos inside of them.

Is there something I want?  Work to earn it.

Is there something I am struggling with inside?  Find a self-help book and become more in tune with myself.

I want to be all that I can be and as well-rounded as my peers.  I want to have all of the nice things I see in the homes of others and on the television commercials and shows that I watch.  The culture around me tells me that I am entitled to all of this if I just work hard enough.

Eventually this idea became so ingrained in me that I started to have a prosperity gospel kind of outlook.  Surely with all the good works I do at church God will bless me with all of these wants!  He will surely see that I am deserving of a comfortable lifestyle and bless me with the means to have one.

  No matter how much I earned or what I was able to get it was never enough.  The list of wants continued to grow. My life didn’t leave me with a sense of contentment or peace or joy in my life.  Why is that?  If all of this stuff I am acquiring is a blessing from God for all of my hard work and self-reliance shouldn’t I be filled with these things?

Perhaps this isn’t God’s plans for me after all.  All of this focus on what I want and never being truly happy with what I have could be a distraction ploy of the Evil One instead.  Could he be blinding me and others in our cultures with all that glitters in this world?

The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. – A.W. Tozer

I know that I have fallen into this trap many times.  I would become preoccupied with things like getting a better promotion in order to have financial security and end up losing track of spiritual things.  All of these things that I viewed as blessings from God as an indication of his pleasure or displeasure with me kept me focused on the things of this earth.  Each time I have been distracted by the things of this earth I lost sight of the God who loves me and seeks obedience and humility from me.

God is always patient with me and lovingly calls me back to him.  It is never to late to come back to his welcoming embrace.  The more that I turn to this God of love the more I find myself wanting to walk in complete submission to his plan for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  To walk in complete submission to God’s will I have to choose to do so every day.  It requires me to be intentional about quiet times of prayer as well as time of soaking myself in his Word.  Just because it is intentional doesn’t mean that it is a chore.  The more I submit in prayer and soak up his Words of life the more I find myself wanting to do just that.  These small changes in my life have brought about immense amounts of peace into my life.

For the first time ever I am finding my way and establishing healthy boundaries in many areas of my life that up until now have not had any.  This has helped me to stop being the overwhelmed people-pleaser with no time for myself or my family who was very stressed all of the time.

The most amazing part of all of this is that as I have been changing my attitude about prayer and actively seeking a relationship with God, he has been changing my heart to that of a servant.  His servant.  Sent to do the work he has specifically equipped me for.

The tone of my prayers has changed from requests for things that I want that are things of this earth to requests that He change my heart so that I might know him better and know how best to use the gifts he has given me.

Not my will be done, but His will be done.

The material things just don’t seem to be all that important after all.  Maybe focusing on the things that are above aren’t such lofty ambitions after all.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Instead of waiting to “find my calling” or “a way to be used in ministry” I must simply place my trust in Him and start being God’s light right where I currently am at.  I can show the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in my home, in my church and in my workplace.

God only asks for me to be obedient and humble in doing his will.  He will take care of the rest.  As C.S. Lewis says in The Joyful Christian, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”  My eyes need only be fixed on Heaven to successfully travel my path on Earth.  My eyes are fixed on the treasures of above.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21 (NSRV)

 

Talents and Testimonies

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A few weeks ago my son and I joined our church family on the annual weekend spring retreat.  It was held at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center near Mt. Pleasant, PA.

One of the activities available at Laurelville is a prayer labyrinth. It is situated at the top of a long, gradually winding, hilly path.  From this labyrinth, which is a large circle and consists of winding stone and pebble paths, you can look out across a breathtaking view of a valley.

As I set out for an afternoon walk to the prayer labyrinth I found sunshine, deep vividly blue sky, brisk winds, and a quiet meditative time of reflection and prayer.  My thoughts began to reflect on the powerful messages our resource person for the weekend had shared with us earlier that morning and the previous night before.

Our resource person was Dr. Don Bartlette*.  He is a very gifted speaker known for his  life story, Macaroni at Midnight.   It tells of the struggles he faced as not only a disabled child, but also as a discriminated Native American child who grew up in poverty.  He over came all of the adversities of his childhood and young adult years and would eventually go on to use his story of healing and redemption to help spread God’s message of love.

As I continued to walk with the brisk breezes and sunshine hitting my face my thoughts shifted from Dr. Don to one of the scriptures I have been meditating on over the past month,  the Parable of the Talents.

Found in Matthew 25:14-30, this story tells the tale of three servants who are each entrusted with different amounts of talents (money) from their master.  Two of them immediately go out and use the talents they have been given to increase the total amount of talents.  The last servant, who had only been given one talent, dug a hole and hid the talent given to him there.

When the master returned he was greatly pleased with the first two servants and rewarded them.  The third servant was not so fortunate.  He was tossed out for being wicked and lazy.  I must admit that I have always felt sorry for this poor guy.

Until recently I must have been taking this story quite literally because I couldn’t understand why the guy who protected the money he was given was considered so lazy.  He was entrusted to protect the money given to him, right?  That’s exactly what he did!  In my mind the first two were the ones that were questionable because they were gambling with the master’s money.

It turns out Jesus wasn’t telling this story to warn us about the dangers of a gambling addiction!

In this parable the talents are actually representing spiritual gifts and the master is God.  So the first and second servants went out immediately and used the talents/gifts God had given them to increase the numbers in God’s flock which in turn brought the gifts of the new members to be used for Kingdom work.  They were obedient and willing servants.

The third servant, who was called lazy, actually kept his gifts locked inside and was refusing to use his gifts because he was afraid of God.  I believe that at the heart of this fear was the fact that he didn’t clearly understand the nature of God.  He says to him, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,” in verse 24.

We have been taught in songs that there are many gifts but the same Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts and talents that are uniquely suited to our purposes and tasks in the Kingdom:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;   and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.   To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV)

However, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit forces us to use these gifts.  We have to willingly make the choice to share our gifts and to be used for good here on earth.

We are also each given a testimony that is unique to us.  These testimonies are made of good experience and bad experiences.  There is pain in this life.  No one can escape from it.  However, God is using that pain in the process to help refine us.

God doesn’t choose to let bad things happen to us, but he will always use the experience for good.  If we are willing to live lives of obedience and humility in his service he will help us to not only survive but to heal and to thrive.  He will use these experiences as teaching tools once the work of refining and molding are done.  The greatest men and women in the Bible had to go through pain and trials as God was cleansing them and preparing them for great tasks.

Who would know this better than Joseph?  He chose to trust in the Lord in the midst of his betrayals and sufferings caused by his brothers’ jealousy.  Joseph also allowed God to heal his wounded heart.  When the time came, he was able to not only forgive those same brothers, but he provided for them and their people during the time of famine:

Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. – Genesis 50:20 (NRSV)

We each have a testimony to go out and share and talents to use to help us share not only our testimony, but also the love of God.  Our heavenly Master is weaving together our gifts and experiences into the tapestries of our lives.  Will the finished tapestries reflect love and care for gathering in God’s people?  Or will they be marred by insecurity or an unwilling, unrepentant spirit?

Will we allow God to heal our wounds and depend on him to use them for good? 

Trust in God and he will make all things new and good.

I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. – Philemon 1:6 (NRSV)

*To learn more about Dr. Don Bartlette and his experiences and testimony, visit his website or find his recordings at Amazon.

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Mr. Max and Dr. Don Bartlette – Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, April 2016

Irish Reflections and Discipleship

I was born with Irish blood.  In typical American fashion it isn’t 100% Irish ancestry that I can claim.  There is a mixture of Russian, German, French and Polish decent in there as well, but the biggest portion of ancestries running through my veins are of  Irish and Polish origins.

Last night I made both the Irish side and the Polish side of my tummy happy with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes in anticipation of St. Patrick’s day.  Today I must confess my Irish eyes are smiling (which is a great song!) and that I am proudly wearing my favorite green shirt:

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This is also the day that I am most likely to watch the old Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People.   However, that is where my following of St. Patrick’s Day traditions ends.

And that is also where my musings begin.

Throughout the day many people will partake in another St. Patrick’s Day “tradition”.  Drinking copious amounts of green beer.  The irony here is that this “tradition” didn’t come from Ireland, but rather was started in New York City in the early 1900’s.

Perhaps the saddest piece of this whole day as it is celebrated in our culture is that in no way does any of it actually tie back to or tell the inspiring story of the man who is celebrated on this day.  Rather than celebrating the life and legacy of a true man of God, we have commercialized this day in our society and have shifted the focus to pursuits that tend to be more negative in nature instead.  Bad Irish jokes and drunkenness have become the order of the day.

St. Patrick was a real person.  In fact, most of what we know about him comes from his own works.  This was a man who embodied forgiveness, humility, obedience, and a willingness to go when God called him to go and make disciples.

If you have never heard the actual details of his life, St. Patrick was actually British!  He found himself kidnapped from his native Britain and family of some wealth, enslaved, and put to work by Irish marauders as a shepherd in Ireland at the age of 16.  For several years he faithfully went about the duties of his new-found life finding strength in his ever-deepening dependence and relationship with God.

And God was faithful to Patrick.

One night in a dream God spoke to Patrick and gave him instructions to run away from his current post, to head for the coast where he would find a boat home.  This was a very dangerous thing for a slave to do and if caught could be life ending.  However Patrick trusted in his God and went.

He did indeed find a boat home and was able to return to the home he was stolen from.  Once there he decided to dedicate his life to the God who saved him both through the grace of salvation and from his physical bonds of slavery.  Patrick became a priest and was made a bishop.  At some point during this time God again spoke to Patrick in his dreams more or less telling him that he should now return to the land of his captivity, not for revenge, but to lead the people there away from the pagan ways they were living to lives of redemption and salvation through Christ.

Again, Patrick heard the voice of his God and listened to his call.

St. Patrick went back to help save the very people who had enslaved him.  After returning to Ireland, this man went on to convert large portions of the population of Ireland to Christianity and is responsible for the building of many churches there.

So today rather than celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by drinking green beer be a radical rebel!  Share with someone the inspiring true story of this man who lived long ago.  Walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick and help introduce someone to the saving grace found in Christ alone (another great song!).  Lead lost people to the one true Shepherd.

 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10-9:10, NSRV)